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Rachel Nachula wins Gold and Sets Commonwealth Record

Rachael Nachula, a young Zambian athlete has just set a new Commonwealth Youth Games record clocking 52.97 seconds in the 400 m women’s race finals at Balewadi in Pune. As Rachel was setting this record and winning gold, her twin sister Rabecca got a bronze medal in the event and was only beaten to silver via a photo-finish by India’s Machettira Raju Poovamma who came from behind in the last 100 meters to post a timing of 55.17 seconds. 18-year old Rachel Nachula becomes the first athlete to run below 54 seconds in the Commonwealth Youth Games. She bettered the earlier record of 54.46 seconds set by Kim Wall ofEngland at the Edinburg 2000 Commonwealth Youth Games. The world record in the event is 47.60s set by Marita Koch of the German Democratic Republic on October 6, 1985 in Canberra, Australia.

What is immediately striking about Zambia’s new find is the similar physique and background before athletics she shares with Mozambique’s Maria Mutola; she is 1.64m tall and weighs 60kg and she and her twin sister used to play football in Lusaka, Zambiabefore they were encouraged to take athletics instead. “I have given up playing football because I do not see much of a future in women’s football as compared to athletics. It is encouraging that I have been selected for the team to the World Youth Championships,” said Rachel ahead of the games in India.

Zambian sisters Rachael Nachula and Rebecca Nachula, stocky and muscular, bounded down the track on the turn for home in the women’s 400m final and it all looked set for a history Zambian performance until the Indian, running in front of home fans moved up from fifth to second with a lung-bursting effort over the last 50 metres. Rabecca Nachula posted 55.20 which ensured she witnessed the Zambian flag being hoisted for her elder sister from the medal podium.

On the track, Rachael finished the semi-final heat one on first position clocking 54:74 seconds to qualify to the finals as top seed ahead. Rebecca, qualified to the finals after clocking 55:31 seconds to finish third in heat two behind Indian, Poovamma Raju Machettira (55:10) and England’s Shelayna Oskan (54:90). Earlier in the first round, Rachael was number one in heat one with time of 56:23 seconds while Rebecca despite recording better time (55:88) than her sister, finished heat three in second position.

Background and Progress

I have never met Rachel personally though I have met other athletes like the Great Kalu, Carol Mokola, Tiger Boy Nkandu, the legendary Samuel Matete and even Esther Phiri who have put Zambia on the map. But her story is the stuff for the movies and so she is the first athlete I am blogging in details. Like a grade 1 singing the Zambian national anthem, “Stand and sing’o Zambia, ploud Humphrey . . . . “, I hereby sing her praises.

Rachael, of Green Buffaloes athletics club and on an International Olympics Committee (IOC) scholarship in the University of Pretoria’s Hign Performance Centre in South Africa, has been fighting the odds all through her life.

The Zambian athlete has a personal best of 51.39s, clocked at the African Championships in Addis Ababa on May 2, 2008 when she took a bronze there. In the indoor version of the event, her personal best is 53.30s, set in Valencia, Spain in March 2008 during the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships when she came 4th in the semi-fianl. She was in the national squad for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she made it to the semi-finals of the 400m. She finished last in the event and posted 52.67s.

It has not been plain sailing but Rachel has achieved a lot in a short time of 3 years. A gentleman called Michael Lungu, based in Sudan, claims to have been the first coach to identify her from the inter-Schools competition held in Chongwe around 2004. This was part of the Zambia Amateur Athletics Association’s Talent Identification Programme. He later took her to the Police Team.

However, National Olympic Committee of Zambia Secretary Hezel Kennedy claims her career in athletics started with Outreach Community Club run by Hanson Mushili inLusaka. If her initial steps are yet to be cleared, her racing credentials are not shroud in clouds of doubt.

Rachael Nachula announced her arrive in the world of athletics at the Southern Africa Regional Championships meet held at Harare, Zimbabwe, in July, 2005. She was perhaps the biggest revelation of the games.

Running barefoot, Rachael won the senior women’s 400m (53.8) and 200m (24.0). She went on to anchor Zambia’s 4x 400m relay where she held off the challenge from Piliza Leona to propel Zambia (3:47.3) to victory over Mozambique (3:47.6) and South Africa(3:51.3). Only 16 years (born on 14 Jan 1990), Rachael was competing in just her third athletics meet. Her first was the Zambian National Championships in Lusaka earlier on and the Southern Africa Youth Championships on 5th June where she set a championship record when she came first in the 200m with 24.49 seconds.

100m Performances

Nachula was in superb form at the 2008 Namibian Track and Field Grand Prix when she posted her personal best time in the 100 meters race with the time of 11.71 seconds adding to her new time in the 400 meters which saw her through to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

200m Performances

In July 2005, straight from Southern African Regional Championships, Rachel went on to compete in the 4th IAAF World Youth Championships in Marrakech, Morocco. She came out 7th in the semi final of the Girls 200m with a worse time of 24.79s.

The following year, in March 2006 during the 18th Commonwealth Games in Melbourne,Australia, Rachael came out 5th in her heat in a time 24.38. This was her second personal best at the time. Later in the year in June, she was to run 24.49s in Pretoria, South Africa.

In June 2006, during the 11th IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing (ChaoyangSport Center), she ran a time of 24.51.

The following month in Windhoek, she improved her time to 23.89s.

Her personal best time in the 200m outdoor event came in Gaborone in May 2007 at the CAA Permit Meeting in Gaborone, Botswana when she won the final ahead of South Africa’s Estie Wittstock.

In February, 2008 in Pretoria, Rachel ran 23.52s.

In April 2008, Rachael during the t the Coca Cola Frankie Fredericks Invitational (Namibia Track and Field Grand Prix) championships held in Windhoek, ran the 200 meters in 23.53 seconds.

400m Performances

In 2005 Rachael Nachula ran 54.56 at an athletics meet in Windhoek, Namibia.

In 2006, she ran a time of 53.05s achieved in the semi-finals of the 11th IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing (Chaoyang Sport Center) when she was 3rd.

In May 2007, at the CAA Permit Meeting in Gaborone, Botswana, Rachel Nachula (52.99s) came out second behind South Africa’s Estie Wittstock who ran a season’s best of 52.53sec to win the 400m. Earlier the two had reversed roles in the 200m with the Zambian (Rachael) coming up trumps.

In Stellenbosch, South Africa, in March 2008, during the Yellow Pages Senior National Championships, Zambian runner, Rachel Nachula, came out second in the 400ms and she clocked 52.97. This was an improvement on her national outdoor record by 0.02 seconds and it was a great achievement seeing there was a strong head wind.

The following month, in April 2008, Rachael Nachula qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games after a stunning performance during the t the Coca Cola Frankie Fredericks Invitational (Namibia Track and Field Grand Prix) championships held in Windhoek. Rachel made it to Beijing after clocking 52.21 seconds in the women’s 400 meters dash. Although she was not among the top finishers in the 400 meters, her time was good enough to land her in Beijing and become the third Zambian to qualify for the Games. This was also faster than the B standard of the Olympic Games in Beijing. Her performance meant that at the time, the 18-year-old also improved her personal best time and broke two Zambian records in the 400 meters sprint round the track. Nachula broke her Zambian junior and the senior records which stood at 53.05 seconds.

In July 2008, at the 12th edition of the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz,Poland, Rachael suggested she could make history as a first ever Zambian medallist at the championships by leading the qualifiers in the opening round of the women’s 400m. The stocky Nachula ran hard to take heat three in an impressive 52.65 to book her spot for following day’s semi-finals. In the final, she barely missed the medals when came out 4th with a time of 52.44. This was an improvement on her time 53.05s achieved in the semi-finals of the 11th IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing (Chaoyang SportCenter) when she was 3rd in 2006.

During the Beijing games in the National Stadium, Rachel qualified to the semi-finals whilst posting her second best ever time of 51.62s in heat 7 of the 400m. Five African women made it into the last 16 of the women’s 400m at the Beijing Olympics. Botwana’s Amantle Montsho, Nigeria’s Folashade Abugan and Ajoke Odumosu, Zambia’s Rachael Nachula and Sudan’s Nawar ElJack all progressed into the semis. Rachel progressed after claiming third spot in her heat.

Congrats!

In congratulating Rachael for her record and the gold medal (not the first of her career though the best honour so far), I leave you a quote one of her fans who said “viva mpanga ya mambwe kwikala yasichula”. And her video from youtube.

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